Friday, February 08, 2008
I love a cold noodle dish. Pasta salad. Leftover pasta served cold. I know many people reject cold pasta dishes due to a perceived lack of flavor. Well, if you are one of those people, consider Otsu – a cold soba noodle dish (one of my favorite cold noodle varieties) with a ton of spicy, tangy, zippy flavor.
I first saw this dish on 101 cookbooks many moons ago (see link for a great definition of Otsu and description of the dish) but the recipe was taken down before I had a chance to try it. It stuck with me, however, and recently I Googled it and found that She Who Eats had made a version of it, and the original recipe, which is from Pomelo, a restaurant in San Francisco, was posted in a forum on Chowhound. I was so excited to find the recipe I couldn’t wait to try it. It’s one of those recipes you can just tell will be fabulous just based on the ingredient list.
I tried it this week and it did not disappoint. In fact, we had it for lunch and then had to polish it off for dinner. The dressing is a very tangy, spicy, rice vinegar, cayenne, lemon, soy, ginger sauce and it is so packed with flavor it cannot be discounted as boring! She Who Eats made note that the key to the dish is patiently cooking the tofu. I was so glad to read that as I went beyond the original instructions to “cook the tofu until it’s bouncy” and hung in there a little longer to brown the tofu on all sides. It took ~20 minutes to patiently pan fry the tofu to golden perfection, but it was worth every minute.
The dish comes together quickly, and you probably already have most of the ingredients in your pantry. If you are time-pressed, you can make the sauce ahead of time. Either way, you will have plenty of sauce leftover for another go at it.
I found the 101 cookbooks recipe on The Amateur Gourmet after I had made the dish using Chowhound’s version. The former used a few different ingredients: honey instead of sugar, shoyu instead of the Chinese (saltier) soy, and olive oil instead of canola. I’m sure all that works well too (a couple of ingredients probably a bit harder to find), but the version I tried was so fabulous I’d hesitate to improve up on it. I’ll post below the recipe I followed, but the other is here if you would like.
Otsu (originally from Pomelo restaurant in San Francisco, as reprinted in the Chowhound boards)
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 oz. cleaned ginger, thinly sliced
1 T. granulated sugar
3/4 t. cayenne
3/4 t. salt
1T. fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 T. canola oil
2 T. pure sesame oil
In a food processor (or with mortar and pestle), combine lemon zest, ginger, sugar, cayenne, and salt and process to a smooth puree; add lemon juice, rice vinegar and soy sauce. Blend well. Slowly add canola oil and sesame oil until well combined.
Soba Noodle Salad:
8 oz. portion frozen soba noodles, thawed and softened in boiling water and rinse in cold running water (or equivalent dry soba noodles, cooked according to package instructions)
1/5 block (3 oz) firm tofu, cut to 1/2" cubes
2 T. canola oil
1 T. chopped cilantro (CC note: I used Italian flat leaf parsley as I'm not crazy for cilantro)
1 scallion, green and white part, cleaned and thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in half lengthwise then cut across into thin half-moons (CC note: would also work well julienned)
Sprinkle sesame seeds + cilantro sprigs for garnish (CC note: I like the way black sesame seeds look with these dark noodles)
Add tofu to a large non-stick skillet without any oil and toss over high heat until all water has evaporated; add canola oil, reduce heat to medium-high and fry, tossing frequently until tofu is firm and bouncy; beware of possible splattering; drain over paper towels (CC note: cook tofu until well browned on all sides, make take 20 minutes); in a large mixing bowl combine drained soba noodles, cilantro, scallions, cucumber and 2-3 oz dressing, toss well; arrange salad in center of large plate and top with fried tofu. Garnish with sesame seeds and cilantro sprigs.